Gustavo and Luis (third and fourth from right) and Mariachi Nuevo Amanecer. Photo courtesy of Gustavo Zambrano.
Gustavo and Luis (third and fourth from right) and Mariachi Nuevo Amanecer. Photo courtesy of Gustavo Zambrano.
Gustavo and Luis (third and fourth from right) and Mariachi Nuevo Amanecer. Photo courtesy of Gustavo Zambrano.

My life changed on September 15, 2013. I was performing with my brother’s group, Mariachi Nuevo Amanecer, de Luis Zambrano, at a Mexican Independence Day celebration in Huntington Park. We were finishing our last set when the crowd requested an encore. Although my brother usually doesn’t sing, he decided to join me in a very emotional performance of “Amor de los Dos,” which brought the house down.

As the song ended, we looked at each other with the same expressions of satisfaction and accomplishment. We knew this was only the beginning. After the show, he told me he loved me and that he saw us performing with the greats in the future.

That hometown performance opened the door for us, and we have since performed and practiced with well-known professional singers and groups.

I’ve always looked up to my brother Luis, 17, who is 17 months older than I am. As a child he enjoyed performing at family parties with my dad, who is a mariachi singer. I never would have thought that he and I would be living out our childhood dreams and making a difference in the way traditional mariachi is performed.

For me, mariachi music is an escape that allows me to express myself the only way I know how — through songs. I learned the violin at a very young age with the help of my brother and our private instructor, Joseph Taylor. I’ve managed to find my personal style and have gained the foundational techniques that have allowed me to perform with older groups at a fairly young age.

In the eighth grade, I taught myself to play trumpet, to be like my brother who plays every mariachi instrument. In addition to playing guitar, trumpet, violin and guitarron, I enjoy singing traditional and modern songs, putting on a show and performing for audiences of any size.

While my parents wanted my brother and me to be lawyers or doctors, music caught our attention. My grandfather and father were both mariachis in Mexico, where my grandfather still plays today. My grandfather, my father and my uncle would go all over Morelos touring in a group called Mariachi Oacalco.

Although I love playing music, the mariachi lifestyle can sometimes be very difficult for a 16-year-old high school student. I spend Saturday nights and Sundays performing, with little time to complete some homework assignments.

Through gigs, my brother and I save up for college and plan for our futures, while learning the responsibilities of adulthood and making smart investments.

To be a successful mariachi musician, you need to be mentally tough in order to handle bad crowds, long practice days and the dry spells where we don’t get as many performances as we’d like.

My brother’s group often gets hired by people who see us in public and invite us to perform for birthday parties, store openings, reunions and even event stages where we open for professional artists. We now have a reputation for being the young group that puts on a show and has a great variety of music.

Our classical training allows us to do things that other mariachi groups who gig from Mariachi Plaza can’t. Knowing how to read notes and having great pitch, combined with great improvisation skills, give us the edge.

My brother has received a music scholarship to UC Irvine. I, too, plan to major in music in college to help me perfect my craft as a musician and overall performer. As we continue to practice and improve, I hope that my brother and I can keep chasing our dream together and some day play with the greatest mariachis in the world.

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